Unboxing A Cheap Roku

DSCN1374Cheap isn’t bad. Sometimes cheap can be just right. If you want a fancier word, let’s use frugal, which is another word I like. After almost eight years with my original Roku, I felt forced into a change. That’s not Roku’s fault, or even Netflix’s, though they did encourage it. Tonight I begin the test of whether I say goodbye to Netflix, or find out that Roku’s new device saves my subscription to that new version of that old service. Step one, explain how I and the new device got here.

Thank you, Netflix. When I got rid of DirecTV in December 2010 I dove into Roku’s offerings. They had hundreds of channels, many of which were free, and many of those were free for good reasons. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. And yet, Netflix was more than enough. It got me through lots of evenings when I needed a distraction. Binge watching as a mental salve in tough times. Goodbye to DirecTV’s monthly fees and hello to a one-time purchase and Netflix’s monthly subscription at one-tenth the price.

Eight years is a long time. I watched a lot of shows and movies. Netflix grew and matured. As children will do, it grew and matured in unexpected ways. Deep documentaries and old movies faded while superficial sensationalism and new Netflix content rose. The Netflix menu drove me towards “because you watched …” rather than letting me pick from specific genres or an easily reviewed list of new movies. Netflix content got big icons. Classic movies shrunk in comparison. My List reduced, reduced, and reduced to a few feeble picks with fewer occasional gems. I left DirecTV because of costs and obnoxious ads. I decided to check Netflix’s competition for fresh titles and old comforts.

While visiting a friend who had a new Roku, I browsed Amazon Prime, HULU, and several other channels. YouTube on my TV (really just a large monitor)? Yes! Finally, places that had Babylon 5 and Stargate SG-1! That’s enough to draw me in. Go home, click around on my old Roku, and get an interesting message. Basically, “You’re equipment is so old it doesn’t work with the new services.” I recall Roku claiming that services were initially available for my old Roku would continue to work. So much for either my recollection or their claim. At least they had a cheap solution. For about $20 they’d send me a new heavily-discounted Roku. (And of course took the opportunity to try upselling me. Ha!)

At that price I ordered one and waited. Slow snail mail is fine by me.

Today the box arrived. On Labor Day. So much for federal holidays when it comes to important things like watching old TV shows.

The unboxing begins. (Disclosure: Typically, I’ll take photos as I mix unboxing and chronicling, but I wanted to take the photos in natural light, so there was a quick photo session as the Sun set.)


The box is only slightly larger than the old device. Inside, an even smaller device in an innovative series of trays that hold micro-electronics that would be science fiction thirty years ago. Open and unwrap and find most of the volume is reserved for cables. The actual electronics boxes are smaller than some in-line transformers that shove other cables aside on power strips. The connectors probably pick the size of the unit. Power in. Internet in. Video and audio out. Add a remote. There’s even room for a couple of batteries included.


Earlier I described the unit to some friends as Ethernet in the back, HDMI out the front, and point the remote at the built-in receiver. Evidently, that’s one of the other units (maybe). Mine looks like a thumb-sized black box with some connectors on the back. Let’s see if this is as simple as it looks. Instruction manuals? Bah. At a guess, rummage through the available cords. Here’s a micro-USB port and a micro-USB cable. Port meet cable. The other end of the cable is a USB connector, and the thing with a two-prong plug has a USB port. Connect. Connect. The back of the thumb-sized box only has two other ports: an HDMI, and an old-fashioned A/V Out.


Before connecting anything or plugging anything in I checked the back of my monitor. Gasp. Grimace. How could it not have an HDMI port? Oh. It’s that old or I’m that cheap or both. Whew. At least the A/V Out port is familiar and there’s a cable with the right pin and a three-color connector. OK. Let’s try this.

Begin plugging cords into power strips and immediately lose track of what goes where. Chase out some dust bunnies that have gone grey. Realize that there’s no Ethernet port, no way to directly connect to the Internet router sitting right beside it. I’m guessing wi-fi is required, in which case I’m going to grab my router’s password before proceeding.

OK. Put batteries into the remote. Turn on the monitor. And wonder why I’m looking at a blue screen. Ta da! “Let’s get started>” (My monitor is so old that turning it on or off changes the input source. Old switches get forgetful, I guess.)

Distance glasses on (but perched on the end of my nose as I type.)

English = OK

Looking for wireless networks. Three found even though only one is mine and my house is basically surrounded by empty lots.

Enter password. Try to figure out a keyboard that is operated by remote cursor directions. Squint, even with glasses, to read the tiny type.

“Update available” Looks encouraging. OK. Because there’s no other choice. Less than three minutes to update. Automatic restart, with some odd audio cues. Check display setting because the icon looks like it should be circular but looks elliptical.

Activate your Roku – which involves remembering old passwords and entering codes on a handy computer. Have a computer handy.

Terms and Conditions – check. Oops. Actually click Check, not just OK.

Get logged out for “security reasons”?

Log back in without a problem.

The Roku screen on my “TV” says it will “update once you’re done” but the Roku screen on my computer isn’t telling me what to do. Maybe I have to “Link a device”.

Select the room the device is located in. That’s personal. Oh well, Living Room.

Oh, those pesky Check boxes are so subtle I can’t tell they’re there until I get the error message.

Now starts the sales pitch for other channels.

HULU is already checked. I don’t see YouTube or Netflix. Oops. Accidentally hit the Next button and magically the TV changes.

Another opportunity to sign in or sign up and I’ll pass hoping I can do that later.

“You’re done!” except the TV is updating 35 channels. Patience, couch potato. Ironically, one of the channels being updated in DirecTV. Nope. Not going to do it.

“All done> ” says the TV.

I’ll hit OK and see what happens.

Looks encouraging. I see Netflix, HULU, Pandora, Newscaster, and a couple dozen others. Rats. No YouTube. I’ll rummage around for that later. First. Netflix because that worked yesterday on the old machine.

Got to sign in. Guessing at usernames and passwords, a modern parlor game.

Interesting. The other screen used an ABC keyboard. This one uses QWERTY. Hello, Roku. Do your various departments actually talk to each other? You realize QWERTY is based on typing, not moving cursors around? Only took two tries.

Upgrade to HD? Not if I have to pay for it, which they require. No Thanks.


Now, I’m part of the 2018 Netflix with its auto-play, accelerated binge-watching that doesn’t leave time to breathe  between shows (popcorn has to be made sometime, but first I have to rush to stop the next show, or start one just to hit pause.)

I’ll check into HULU, later (which is really hulu but I don’t want to confuse the movies with the ritual dance.)

One significant and trivial upside is the new remote. The old one was wearing out. Too much scrolling in search past too many lesser run movies that probably each have their fans, but not enough appeal for me.

After I establish a HULU account and indulge in some of that familiar sci-fi, I’ll dive into the real draw, YouTube. Deep documentaries? What’s deeper than direct feeds from NASA and university labs? Classic shows? Maybe not as much, but the unfiltered creativity on YouTube is greater than my capacity to see it all.

Is this all worth it? Come on. Twenty dollars and an evening or two of exploration. I’ll probably save that much time by spending less time searching for good content. As for the $20; it’s nice to be able to spend so little to get so much – something I put off doing last year.

Now, even if you won’t excuse me, I have to exploring to do – after I add photos and publish this post. I sense popcorn in my very near future.

PS I just noticed that YouTube’s icon is on the cover. I hope I can find it in the machine.

About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: https://trimbathcreative.net/about/ and at my amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0035XVXAA
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